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William Booth

founder of the Salvation Army

William Booth.

William Booth was born in Nottingham, England, on April 10, 1829, one of four children born to Samuel and Mary Moss Booth. His father was a relatively wealthy man when he was born, but by the time William entered his teens the family had plunged into poverty and he went to work as a pawnbroker's assistant to help support his family. That work became even more important after Samuel Booth died in 1843. He continued in that work after moving to London in 1849.

Booth's family was not very religious, but when he was 15 he experienced a religious conversion at Nottingham's Wesleyan Chapel, after which he began preaching in the streets on behalf of a Methodist chapel. He continued his street ministries after moving to London, and decided to give up his pawnbroker job in favor of the ministry in 1852; he was formally ordained a minister in the Methodist church in 1858.

William Booth met Catherine Mumford in 1852, and the two were married 1855; they ultimately had eight children. Although William did not initially believe that women should be preachers, he changed his mind when Catherine got up to deliver a sermon at one of his meetings in 1860; her sermon proved to be so powerful that William never again challenged the ability of women to preach, and even encouraged many to do so.

Booth's method of preaching put him conflict with "established" churches almost from the beginning, especially his use of lively secular music to attract crowds and the giving of short exhortations calling for a decision to Christ in place of long sermons to hold those same crowds. He also routinely invited "street people" to attend his church services, a practice that tended to make the "more refined" members of congregations very uncomfortable. Rather than silence the music, extend his sermons, and/or exclude the downtrodden, Booth decided to break from the Methodist church and, in July of 1865, he and Catherine founded the Whitechapel Christian Mission in East London.

Booth believed that a sinful man will endure eternal suffering without personal acceptance of Christ as his savior, and wanted to make sure everyone, including those not normally accepted into "established" churches, had the opportunity to make that commitment. Realizing that many of those he wanted to preach to first needed their personal situations to improve before they would even consider conversion, his mission included the establishment of food kitchens and shelters, and assistance with drug and alcohol abuse. Many of the people Booth "saved" subsequently joined his mission as workers, and by 1874 he was overseeing 42 evangelists and about 1,000 volunteers. In 1878, Booth was reading a printer's proof of the organization's annual report when he noticed the statement, "the Christian Mission under the (sic) Superintendent's of the Rev. William Booth is a volunteer army." He crossed out the words "volunteer army" and penned in "Salvation Army." From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The Salvation Army, which was adopted in August of that same year. It was at this time that Booth reorganized his "army" along military lines, complete with miliary-like titles and uniforms, and, as head of that army, became General William Booth. Mary Booth died in 1890, the same year he published In Darkest England and the Way Out (which became a bestseller) to explain his social relief scheme. He spent the rest of his life expanding The Salvation Army's mission into 58 countries.

General William Booth died at his home in Hadley Wood, London, England, on August 20, 1912. His funeral service, held at London's Olympia Stadium on August 27, was attended by some 40,000 people, including Queen Mary, and 10,000 uniformed Salvationists accompanied his casket to the non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington the following day, where he was laid to rest next to his wife. He was succeeded as General of The Salvation Army by his eldest son, William Bramwell Booth.


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This page was last updated on August 20, 2018.